Remembering an Icon

Several giants have trotted this blessed land and continue to do so. This is a story of such a figure, as I remember Him. 

Just like a river erodes its embankments, time eats into our brains, scaling off several memories, good and bad. However, there are exceptions, such as solid rocks along the shores of rivers and oceans, which remain undeterred for ages. Similarly, etched to our brains are memories that stand the test of time, unforgettable and cherished for a life time. My acquaintance with a Personality who departed from the world on October 18, 2017, falls in this league.

I cannot precisely say when I saw Him for the first time. But I do remember that it was at Jigme Sherubling High School, Khaling. The picture of a person carrying a bag, following His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo; humility sparkling from His visage, when His Majesty visited Jigme Sherubling High School, is a portrait, which I will never forget. I was then a class VII student, wondering who this person was. It remained as a question.

I got the answers two years later, when I visited Thimphu for the first time. During a family dinner, one of my uncles mentioned about Him. As I was not sure if he was referring to the Person I had seen in Khaling, I asked my cousin if it was Him that my uncle was talking about. He said yes. And for the first time, I came to know about a Personality, who could justifiably be called as the manifestation of service, loyalty and one who knew and practiced the essence of Tsa-Wa-Sum. My first visit to the capital was rewarded and I went back learning about the Person who had become a mythical figure for me.

Time rolled by. Like many of us, I completed several examinations and finally graduated. I sat for the Royal Civil Service Examinations (RCSC). The 25 of us, who crossed the RCSC Bridge successfully, were enrolled at the Royal Institute of Management (RIM) for the Development Management Course (DMC), which we used to call the Dasho Making Course. One from the 25 was the nephew of the Person who had somehow left a mark on me. I harbored the wish to meet Him. I wanted to ask my friend, His nephew, but I just did not have the guts to do so. However, there is something called “Divine Intervention”. Divinity intervened one fine day as His nephew invited me over to his house.

Feelings sometimes are weird. As we drove from Semtokha to His residence, my jugular veins were filled with joy and anxiety, which made me like a statue. I felt that the drive was shorter. Finally, I entered His house. My friend asked me to take a seat in the drawing room. I looked around and saw that the room was not like one I imagined. It was simple and similar to those of an  ordinary person.

Few minutes later, the magical moment dawned. Speaking in their dialect, my friend came along with Him to the room. I did not know what to do. But reflexes are strong and I bowed to Him. I stood still and He asked me to sit. My friend introduced me to Him. He congratulated me for having performed very well in the RCSC. I realized that He knew my parents and relatives, which boosted my confidence a bit. He talked about values and the roles that we can and have to play in nation building. All through, the rays of humility, which I had seen years back, were still there, illuminating from His eyes. I do not know for how long we talked. But I was blessed, honored and of all, very happy, for He told me to drop in, whenever I wanted to.

Few days before being enrolled formally as members of the civil service, a relative came from Phuentsholing. He had brought fruits, including grapes. I always considered grapes a luxury for my humble teeth, tongue and stomach. I decided that I would offer it to the Person, who had told me to drop in, whenever I wanted. Opportunity seldom knocks, and I seized it. Holding the small cartoon with the greens inside, I walked to His house, edgy about the reception that waited. I knocked softly. Perhaps it was too soft as I heard no steps approaching to open the doors. I knocked again, a little harder. I was about to go for the third one, when the door opened. I had thought that a maid or someone else would greet me. I was mistaken. It was He, Himself. I almost dropped the box I was carrying.

He was surprised. Anyone in His shoes would be. He opened the door. I bowed and He patted me. It was a wonderful feeling. I was about to remove my shoes, but He insisted I need not. We walked into the drawing room and before even asking why I had come, He asked me what I would have. I said coffee and He conveyed this to the maid. I then offered the grapes to Him. He said I should not have brought it. After few minutes of introductory talks, He delved into serious matters of national importance. I was taken on a tour of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s vision of the country; the significance of preserving and promoting our culture; challenges that confronted our country; the proactive roles that we should play as civil servants and a host of other issues. He knew everything under the sun. I was listening throughout. I had forgotten that I was holding a cup of coffee. And when I knew, it had become cold. But I gulped it.

Yet another magical moment, which lasted for more than an hour! Though I wanted to continue listening and learning, I knew that He would have important matters to attend to. So I sought leave. I left His residence enriched and emboldened. I also realized that I was just a frog in my own pond and that there were several subjects that I did not know anything about. I might have excelled in the RCSC examinations, but with what I possessed, excelling in life was a dream.

Uncertainty is the only certain thing in life. Today may be a good and promising day. But the ball can change tomorrow. Life is full of vicissitudes. I have had my share and during those low phases of my life, several people supported me. However, someone whom I never expected to console, inspire and give me hope was Him. I cannot remember the exact day, but I will never forget that unexpected call from Him, asking me to come to His house. I was neither related nor very close to Him. Still, He pulled me up, saying that one should never give up; that no one is perfect; citing examples of very successful people who fell and then rose. I must admit this. I cried like a child, for I was emotionally overwhelmed by His gesture. From everything that He told me, one of the most important one was: “Just consider that the tears rolling down your cheeks are your past. It is never too late to begin a new life.”

After that I did not avail the opportunity to meet and learn from Him. But there were occasions where we met; which I again consider “Divine Intervention”. Few years back, when a group of our military personnel, including the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), officers were promoted, I saw Him come in a green car (hilux), without any attendant to offer khaddar to the officers at the RBP mess. I went forward and assisted Him. Yet again, I saw humility personified. I did not get to talk with Him for hours; but He said that He heard I am doing well and that He is very happy.

When I ventured on a Herculean task to write my first book, as the nation celebrated His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s 60th Birth Anniversary, I sought His guidance. And He brushed me up; starting from protocol to presentation. The height and depth of the role that He played in shaping my life is immeasurable.

My last conversation with Him was over the telephone, towards the beginning of December last year. Like the former ones, it was again a surprise. He called to thank me for offering Him a copy of my latest book. His voice was feeble and the words clearly resonate even today. “I want to be honest. I have not yet read your book. But by going through the structure, I can say that it will be a wonderful read. Keep writing.”

I join everyone in praying for the departed soul. For such a noble soul, there is no doubt that He will be in peace. What I pray for and invoke the Triple Gem, is the return of this Soul to this blessed land.

(Dedicated to Late Dasho Goob Pema Wangchen).

By Ugyen Tenzin,

Thimphu.

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